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General News

Prominent Businessman and Philanthropist Tom Demakes Speaks to TNH

BOSTON – The name Tom Demakes is closely connected with the history of the city of Lynn, Massachusetts. He is perhaps the biggest philanthropist and donor of the city and particularly for the benefit of its youth because with his efforts and leadership the city takes care of its present and secures its future.

The newly constructed building of the YMCA is dedicated in honor of his family, bearing the name ‘Demakes Family YMCA.’ It was inaugurated on Friday, May 7 in the presence of Massachusetts governor Charles Baker, local and state officials, and hundreds of guests.

Demakes is a longtime and faithful reader of The National Herald and he recently spent an entire afternoon talking about Lynn and its organizations and Institutions, to which Demakes has contributed enormously – not only financially but by example and, leading fundraising efforts and overseeing the construction of facilities.

The greatest share of his community love, however, is reserved for the historic parish of St. George, for which he revealed his vision of soon establishing a school for children from six months to five-and-a-half-years old, and also a charter School.

He is the owner of the major and historic Old Neighborhood Food company, which specializes in all varieties of cold cuts, salami, hot dogs, and sausages which can be found not only in major super markets but also in small superettes around New England and employs more than 500 employees. He has turned the company over to his three sons “who are doing very well,” he said. 

While visiting the new state of the art YMCA building we asked him why he is engaged in all he does, and his answer was spontaneous: “because Lynn is my village. I am the third generation of Demakeses in this country. I feel as if I owe the city of Lynn, which is a city of immigrants. It used it be Greeks, Italians, Polish, and Jewish people and today they are Guatemalans and Dominicans and Nigerians – but it is the same story, different immigrants.”

Regarding the naming of the building, he said, “I feel very proud that this new YMCA is named after my family, which has lived in Lynn for generations.  My grandfather and my grandmother had grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren that were brought up in Lynn – they are doctors, accountants, lawyers, bankers, school teachers – and everyone loves the city and appreciates the opportunities that the city gave us.”

The YMCA is not the only institution he supports. “It didn’t start with YMCA. It started with the Girls Club Inc. In 2010 we built an new Girls Club, and in 1012 we built a new charter school, the Kipp Academy, in 2017 a new Aspire Academy, in 2018 we built the J.B. Blood Building, the new Kipp Academy High School on Wheeler Street. In 2020 we completed a new renovation (Phase 1) of the Boys and Girls Club in Lynn. In 2020 St. Mary’s completed construction on a beautiful new STEM building on its campus. In 2021 we are opening the new YMCA on Neptune Boulevard.” He said, “anything that benefits the city, particularly the youth of the city, the Demakes family supports. We are one of the biggest employers of the city and we feel that we should help everybody and not just the Greeks.” He added, “I am in charge of the fundraising and many times we are one of the biggest donors. I have a lot of friends who donate one and two hundred thousand dollars or half a million dollars, and this is how we raise the money.” He said he was a member of the YMCA “when I came home from College. I remember the Boys Club over here since I was eight or 10 years old,” he said, adding with an emotional tone in his voice, that “although I help the YMCA and all these things, my number one love is St. George and Hellenic College – all Greek things because I am Greek. I am proud to be a Greek. My son Andrew runs the Agganis Foundation. He runs the games, we give scholarships in the name of [the late renowned local athlete Harry Agganis]. Ari Demulas, Mike Demulas, and George Behrakis always help, and they are all wonderful people. I am a very proud Greek and I urge the Greeks to wake up, to stop living in the past and live for today. Too many Greeks today live off the glory of the ancient Greeks. What have we done lately? I have only been to Greece twice in my life, once on my honeymoon and once on my anniversary five years ago, but I fell in love just as if I were born in Greece. I have Greek blood in my veins.” 

He spoke very highly of George Behrakis from Lowell. “I love George Behrakis, he is the best.”

From the YMCA Demakes proceeded to the Church of St. George, which is within walking distance, and he opened up about his ancestors. “My father was a chemical engineer from MIT, he graduated in 1929 and his brother Charlie was a Harvard graduate who graduated in 1932. During the depression, there weren’t too many jobs, so they worked at the family business and started making ‘loukaniko’ – hot dogs and sausages. My father died at the age of 98. I used to tease my father that they built the worst-looking Greek Orthodox Church in America. He said you have plenty of money – we didn’t have any money. Chris Kamatzes was the architect; we couldn’t put a dome on the church and so we put two domes on the narthex. We arched the windows and put in brick columns and we spread them around the whole of the building.”

Demakes declared with pride: “I am third generation. My grandfather and grandmother came here in 1893 and 1896 and they lived in Lowell, where they met, and they married in 1900 and moved to Lynn. They came from Sparta. My grandmother came from Alevrou and my grandfather form Loganiko. My grandfather was the first president of St. George in Lynn and my father was the first boy baptized in Lynn.”

While he was showing off the renovated community center of St. George, he said “we are going to start a Pre-School here from six months to five-and-a-half- years old so we can generate revenue for the Church and not have to depend on dues and festivals. The school will be open to everybody. We don’t have enough Greek people to support the school, so the neighborhood has to support it. We have to renovate the downstairs and put an elevator in so the State of Massachusetts will certify us for early childhood education. The parents will be paying and the Sate will be assisting – some combination of the two depending on the income of the family – one of the plans that we have is for 140 students. We renovated the entire community center and put bathrooms upstairs. The parish consists of about 500 families, but without enough youth we are shrinking all the time.”

He showed off the iconography on the upper level of the nave and the new chandeliers, saying “those are automated. Everyone is on a motor and we can lower them and clean them and change the bulbs.”

He added that, “in Lynn we mind our own business we chip in and make progress. COVID hurt church attendance in all denominations all over the world, but we are going to offer a range of services that will attract new, younger parishioners.”

Demakes has been involved for 45 years at St. George – “since I was married in 1977” he said. And he has a vision: “We are hoping to have a charter school. The politics in Massachusetts are not right for a charter school, but I am hoping that will change and I know a Serbian gentleman in Florida who started the True North Charter Schools.”

Asked where the Church is heading on the national Church, Demakes replied, “you know better than  I do. I have been working with Hellenic College for twenty years and with Leadership 100 for twenty years and the National Hellenic Society for ten years. I have a lot of friends around the country. If we do not broaden our horizons, we are going to keep losing members. The New York Times did a survey and said that fifty present of people or less say that they affiliated with a church, but there is a big question there about the fifty percent who are not involved with a church. A big percentage said they believe in God but they just don’t like the way the churches are approaching the teachings of God.  You can’t fool people any more. The young kids today are too smart and they know whether you are welcoming them, they know whether you really care about them. If the Church is going to continue on the same path and say that we are in business for two thousand years and we will be in business for the next two thousand years, that is a shortsighted policy.”

He added that “the mentality of our leaders needs to change, the mentality of our priests. I can’t tell my kids what to do. I carefully suggest. How can a hierarch bang his staff on the ground and demand we do certain things when they cant get them done in their own home? Those days are gone. When they realize that, they may get young people to start coming to church. You have to welcome everybody. In my business I have five hundred employees – they don’t have to work for me, they may leave tomorrow and go to work for somebody else. You have to treat them extra good. Pay them well, but also respect them, and listen to them and try to find out what makes them happy. People don’t work for money alone, they also work for satisfaction. The days of ordering your employees what to do are gone. Today, what I do what I do with my wife and children is suggest, and hopefully I can get half of what I want.”

When it was noted that Hellenic College began the same year as Brandeis University but Hellenic College was still taking ‘baby steps,’ he said “you didn’t have to pick Brandeis, you can pick Boston College, Holy Cross, you can pick any college, they have learned that have to put in professional educators in to run the institutions – that is the only way to fly. If you are going to put in priests and try to run a college like a church you are dead and that is what happened to Hellenic College. It has had no autonomy and the wrong people have been in charge. They may mean well, but they are not professional educators.”

Demakes continued, saying “I do think that our Church has its priorities wrong. Our Church should be funding one hundred percent the Clergy Pension Fund. I don’t know any organization in America or in world that has taken money from the pension fund of its employees without the people in charge getting into serious trouble. If we have a second priority it should be Hellenic College. Everything else is third, fourth, fifth, priority. I have worked with Hellenic College for twenty years and I am embarrassed how little progress was made but I am hoping that people are waking up and seeing that without Hellenic College we have no future.”

When asked how much money he has donated to Hellenic College he replied, “I cannot say” – but TNH estimates it is over two million dollars.

Demakes said he has yet to meet the new Archbishop, but added, “I will at some point. I wish him well. He is like the President of the United States: maybe he does some things that I like and maybe he does somethings that I don’t like – but I respect the Office.”

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